Lawsuit filed against FAA in stunt plane crash that killed TV news anchor

By BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News

(NEW ORLEANS) — The family of a New Orleans TV newscaster who was killed in a stunt plane crash a year ago has filed a $23 million lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration claiming the agency cleared the aircraft to fly despite allegedly knowing of its history of mechanical problems.

The husband of Nancy Parker, a veteran anchor for Fox affiliate station WVUE-TV, filed the wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Orleans on behalf of himself and their three children.

Parker, 53, and pilot Franklin J.P. Augustus, 69, were killed on Aug. 16, 2019, when the Aerotek Pitts S-2B aircraft, registered to Drug Fighter LLC, crashed shortly after taking off from New Orleans’ Lakefront Airport. Parker and Augustus were the only two people aboard the biplane, which was scheduled to do skywriting stunts, officials said.

Parker’s husband, Glen Boyd, claims in the lawsuit that FAA workers were aware of airplane’s “lengthy and well-known history of substandard maintenance, mechanical problems and scant flight time” when they cleared the flight for takeoff, according to the lawsuit that was filed on Aug. 6.

Despite allegedly knowing of the maintenance and operational problems with the aircraft, “appropriate steps were not taken by FAA officials to ensure [the plane] was airworthy prior to clearing the aircraft for flight,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit did not specify the maintenance history of the aircraft or cite specific evidence proving the FAA was aware of any alleged history of mechanical problems.

A placard had been placed in the aircraft in November 1983 warning that its smoke skywriting system should only be used on solo flights, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also states the plane had been modified with a 14-gallon auxiliary fuel tank under the passenger seat in February 1992.

According to the lawsuit, Parker was not notified by the FAA or employees at the Lakefront Airport of the “foreseeable risk of harm to life and limb associated with flying in the aircraft” nor was she advised of the plane’s history of mechanical problems prior to boarding the aircraft.

On the day of the crash, the flight was delayed from taking off for several hours because of “mechanical problems with the aircraft’s engine which negatively impacted engine performance and safety of flight,” the lawsuit reads.

Parker, who won multiple Emmy awards as a journalist, was filming a piece on the stunt plane with Augustus to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, a pioneering group of Black pilots who fought in World War II.

Shortly after takeoff, Augustus radioed the Lakefront Airport’s air-traffic control tower requesting immediate clearance to return to the airport but did not specify why, according to a preliminary investigative report from the National Transportation Safety Board. As Augustus attempted to return to the airport, the plane made a sharp descent and crashed into an open field bursting into flames, according to the NTSB report.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation by the NTSB. Shortly after the crash, the NTSB said the investigation could take 12 to 24 months before a determination of probable cause for the crash is issued.

FAA officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.

An initial statement from the FAA said the stunt plane was manufactured in 1983 and “crashed under unknown circumstances” in an empty field about a half-mile south of the Lakefront Airport.

“The NTSB will lead the investigation, and the FAA’s investigation will become part of the NTSB’s series of reports,” the statement reads.

The federal government has 60 days from the date the lawsuit filed to respond, according to court records.

In a Facebook tribute to his wife shortly after her death, Boyd, who works as a spokesman for the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, Sheriff’s Office, described her as an “an amazing human,” an “awesome mother” and “a master of her craft.”

“I loved her and she loved me,” wrote Boyd, who was married to Parker for 26 years. “We were best friends.”

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